Cleveland (42-30) lost 4-1 to Washington (31-42) in the series opener Friday night, dropping the Indians a game behind Detroit, which extended its winning streak to five with a 5-0 shutout of the Atlanta Braves.
The Indians, who have been jockeying with the Tigers for the top spot in the AL Central all season, have fallen to second place for the first time since they were one-half game behind Detroit on May 24.
Cleveland left 10 runners on base after totaling 26 runs in its previous three games, and its lineup has taken a slight hit with left fielder David Dellucci requiring surgery for an injured hamstring that will sideline him for about eight weeks.
The left fielder, who was hurt Tuesday in a loss to Philadelphia, is slated to undergo surgery. Jason Michaels started in place of Dellucci for the second straight game.
“We’ll just continue on with that and see where it leads us,” Indians manager Eric Wedge said.
Cleveland, which has lost 11 of 19, will now give the ball to a struggling Paul Byrd (6-3, 4.81 ERA). After winning four straight starts, the right-hander is 0-2 with a 9.60 ERA in his last three.
On the season, opponents are batting .327 against the right-hander.
He gave up five runs and 10 hits in five innings as Cleveland lost 6-2 to Atlanta on Saturday.
Byrd is 6-4 with a 4.09 lifetime ERA in nine starts and seven relief appearances against the Nationals franchise.
Washington, which is in last place in the NL East, will counter with Matt Chico (3-5, 5.35 ERA). The rookie left-hander is coming off the worst start of his career, surrendering eight runs and nine hits - both season highs - in four innings to suffer the loss as Washington fell 9-8 to Detroit on Monday.
It was a regression for Chico, who had posted a 2.74 ERA over his previous four starts although he did not earn a decision in that span.
Chico will try to lead the Nationals, who gave up 32 runs in a three-game sweep to Detroit before this series, to consecutive home wins for the first time this month.
In his second game since being called up from Triple-A Columbus, Washington outfielder Brandon Watson went 2-for-4 with two RBIs on Friday. He had gone 0-for-3 Wednesday night against Detroit after earning a promotion based on an International League-record 43-game hitting streak.
“I’m going to stay within myself this time and just put the ball in play and play hard,” Watson said. “And whatever happens after that has to happen.”
Watson failed to distinguish himself in his previous stints in the majors, hitting .175 in 25 games in 2005, and .179 in 10 games last year.